FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Axes of Struggle in the Asia Pacific

by

Climate change is a war waged against the people of the Global South by industrial powers. A historical epoch is descending, and the islands of the Pacific are drowning. Waters will rise three feet over the next 90 years in Micronesia, a devastating potential for those 607 islands. The small island of Kiribati is already evacuating; the UK purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a climate refugee camp for the fleeing, but Fiji, itself, is looking into the eye of climate change enhanced storms and droughts.

The pressure on Southeast Asian populations is also mounting. Among the strongest typhoons ever recorded, Typoon Haiyan left more than 6,000 dead in the Philippines alone. Aid plans are still the works, some eight months after the most deadly storm in that nation’s history. Two years after the Tōhoku earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Fukushima Daiichi, a once-in-a-decade typhoon slammed into the country, killing 17 and causing more nuclear contamination. The condition of climate refugees is only going to put greater pressure on diplomatic relations in the region, as even the US Department of Defense has stated that its infrastructure is vulnerable to climate change in the region.

Far from promoting a way to escape climate change, the North Atlantic aims to extract fossil fuels from the contested energy-rich waters of the South China Sea by whatever means available. As the US turns its “pivot to Asia,” however, it is mirrored by Russia. Where the US uses the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to chip away at China’s hegemony in the region, Russia works closely with China. The two countries recently signed a gas infrastructure deal that develops a historic partnership. Rosneft just deployed the world’s largest offshore oil drilling platform off Sakhalin Island while mending ties to Japan after the Crimea polarizations, and China has pushed a second offshore oilrig into waters contested by Vietnam. A storm is brewing larger than a typhoon.

Dollars and Gunboats

Dozens of Vietnamese police vessels attempting to pursue the rigs have been rammed by Chinese ships. Vietnam has called on its allies in the Philippines for protection, and the US has reinforced its military partnership with the Philippines in response. Vietnam and the Philippines joined together for war games in the contested Spratly Islands, where China is building a controversial airstrip. In support of the Philippines and Vietnam, Japan altered its constitution to allow the ability to launch a military attack in defense of its allies.

Amidst war games in Southeast Asia, Chinese fighters have been tailgating and buzzing Japanese reconnaissance planes. In early June, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a US recon plane over the Sea of Okhotsk, off Sakhalin Island. North Korea’s recent launching of missiles has angered Japan, setting the region further on edge. Thailand’s military junta plays the wildcard.

The “Eastern Tigers” clique that seized power once again from the China-friendly Shinawatra regime has deep ties to US counterinsurgency, but also seems to play up to its role as the representative of ASEAN to China. Moody’s “Inside Asia” report warns that Thailand is especially vulnerable to China’s economic slowdown, gesturing towards the potential benefits of the US-driven Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, the TPP seems to be crumbling, as Vietnam, supported by Malaysia and several other countries, protests US protections over domestic catfish production. Japan has shown signs of ducking out of the TPP as well, bartering with Australia for closer bilateral ties instead of a larger area agreement.

Not that China has had much luck on the other end. Taiwan’s tremendous Sunflower Movement emerged last year as a direct result of China’s attempts to pull the Kuomintang government of Thailand closer into its orbit through a bilateral trade pact. The resulting protests involved tens of thousands of people in the streets and the cancellation of the agreement. China’s territorial claims over Taiwan include the Senako Islands, which Japan also claims, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office director, Zhang Zhijun visited last week in a historic show of polity. Although Zhang used the local dialect and came with offerings of peace, his presence was protested throughout the area. At one point, protesters splashed the dignitary with white paint, causing the cancellation of two events.

Axis of Discontent

Beijing’s desires in the South China Sea are dampened by internal strife. In particular, the pro-democracy movement of Hong Kong has shaken the country, bringing somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 demonstrators into the streets on July 1 to call for regional autonomy. As one of the most essential strategic trading areas in the world, Hong Kong is virtually the face of China in the region. But it is not just China that is seeing mounting protests.

There are also ongoing protests against militarization and bad governance in the Japan and the Philippines. In the former country, 40,000 demonstrators gathered outside of the Prime Minister’s house in late June after a man calmly set himself on fire in a busy rail station in Tokyo to protest against Japan’s move to lift prohibitions against military engagement. Japan is at a turning point.

At the same time, in the Phillipines, more than a thousand farmers stormed the Department of Agricultural Reform’s offices, blockading themselves inside and demanding sensible policies. President Aquino has been called out for extensive corruption, and impeachment hearings may be incoming. Among other ills, the government of the Philippines has engaged in bombing and infantry campaigns against Indigenous peoples under the pretext of combatting the New Peoples Army. Danilo Reyes, head of the Asia Human Rights Commission’s Philippines Desk, explains, “[T]he Philippines’ security forces have succeeded in creating perceptions that [legitimate demands for land, food, and protection of rights] are ‘security risks,’ so they could justify killings, arrests, detention and disappearance of human rights and political activists.”

The diplomatic crisis of the Pacific indicates that the conditions of the Global Land Grab are solidifying into resource wars between hegemonic blocs of NATO and Russia-China. As the US financial doyens brace themselves for, gasp, reports of a “successful” market, and food prices continue their three-month decrease around the world, many territorial struggles are taking on a new character—from dispersed, corporate-driven land struggles to focused diplomatic disputes with clear nationalist character.

This new Cold War was highlighted by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwang-jin, who attached this hallmark statement to the gift of a warship sent to the Philippines: “South Korea’s gesture is a small token compared with the great contribution of Filipino troops during the Korean War.” At the same time, China continues to express consternation over Japan’s militarization after Shinzo Abe’s visit to the shrine of Japanese war criminals from WWII. The plethora of references to the Cold War, alluded to by all sides, reveals horrific possibilities of mounting stakes of extremism in the South China Sea.

Alexander Reid Ross is co-moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014). His work can also be found in Life During Wartime: Resistance Against Counterinsurgency (AK Press 2013).

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail